Allen Park — Being thrown to the other side of the ball in the middle of last season took Nick Bellore back to high school French class, learning the foreign language of the offense at fullback.
“I probably got a C-minus in French in high school, so I’ve never really been a foreign-language guy,” Bellore said. “I learn about a different lesson just about every day.”
The converted linebacker from Central Michigan is entering his eighth NFL season and is working exclusively with the offense. The results have been encouraging enough to have him as the only listed fullback on the roster among seven running backs in camp.
“He’s just been a really good football player, whatever his role has been on the football field, he’s executed at a high level,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “He’s just a good solid football player. You always like guys like that. A tough guy, a smart guy, you try to find some place on the field for them.”
That versatility has been important throughout New England’s dynasty, where Patricia coached under Bill Belichick on a team where wide receivers like Troy Brown also doubled as defensive backs, and linebackers like Mike Vrabel caught big touchdown passes out of the backfield.
Bellore’s transformation began last season under Jim Caldwell, playing 13 snaps at fullback, even catching his first touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford against Baltimore.
Bellore, 29, caught one previous pass in his entire high school, college and pro careers, a 23-yard throw from Tim Tebow on a fake punt with the New York Jets in 2012.
With a full offseason under his belt with the new terminology, Bellore said he was as ready as he could have been.
“Nothing is like practice with pads on though, especially for a fullback,” he said. “It’s one of the few positions where you really can’t get a good feel for stuff until you have pads on.”
The Lions using a seventh-round pick on fullback Nick Bawden of San Diego State in the draft suggests a future for fullbacks leading the way in the running game. Patricia said it adds a level of complexity for a defense, and that many players could fill the role for the Lions.
Bawden suffered a torn right ACL in June’s minicamp and will miss the season, opening the door for Bellore, a special-teams contributor throughout much of his career with the Jets, San Francisco and now Detroit.
“They must’ve liked something that I did last year and it’s fun to get in there and start to learn the position full time, it’s great,” he said. “I just have always have had to do what I needed to do to continue playing, whether it’s just purely special teams stuff and now fullback stuff.
“It’s kind of one of those things, you’ve got to adapt to survive in the league and hopefully this is something I can continue to do and they continue to believe in me, and I can keep progressing in it.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.